Comic Book's Cannibal Cop Takes a Bite Outta Crime

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Cannibals, cops, bird flu: All three of these things have grabbed headlines before, but probably not simultaneously. That's where comic book creator John Layman comes in. His runaway hit series Chew follows the adventures of Tony Chu, a detective turned FDA agent who lives in a world where chicken meat was outlawed by Big Brother after a bird flu scare.  

John Layman's awesome Chew series: Not what McGruff The Crime Dog had in mind when he said, "Take a Bite Out of Crime."

​If you thought that Medium chick has it easy when it comes to solving crimes, wait till you get a load of Layman's unlikely hero. Chu's a cibopath -- someone who can see the last minutes of anything he eats.

Guy tries a radish and he gets images of pesticides and harvesters. Hamburger? Let's just say you might go vegan and join PETA after seeing a mallet swinging towards your head. And just imagine what Chu could see if, let's say, he were to take just a teensy weensy bite out of some serial killer's victim. 

We caught up with Layman at a signing this past Saturday evening at Atomic Comics' Chandler location and picked his brain about Chew.   

More from Layman -- and an illegal chicken eating contest!! -- after the jump.

Layman chatted with fans and signed their copies of the Chew series or his other published comics, including issues of Xena and Marvel Zombies and the hilarious Stephen Colbert's Tek Jansen. The folks at Atomic Comics also came up with a wacky "Are You a Cibopath?" game. Thankfully, there were no corpses to taste test; just six types of fried chicken carcasses from the neighboring Buffalo Wild Wings.

​The deal: Eat one of each boneless wing type and guess the sauce. The contestant with the most correct guesses would take home a signed Chew #1. Sweeet!

​Three lucky contestants scored 6 out of 6 on the wing tasting/eating contest, making it a tie. But there was only one first issue to go around. So the three battled it out via comic book related questions posed by Layman. 

We posed a few questions of our own to Layman, though they seemed a lot easier to answer than his stumpers. 

NT: How did you come up with the idea for Chew?

JL: No idea. I'd been pitching it for so long that I can't remember. I pitched it to like seven Vertigo editors. Everyone knew I was working on this weird cannibal/bird flu book and they were like 'yeah, whatever, good luck.' I had this psychic detective idea and this prohibition/bird flu idea, and I realized they were both based around food.

NT: Are you a big eater?

JL: I'm a fat guy, yeah. My wife's a gourmet cook, but I could eat at Taco Bell every day and be happy.

 NT: Any idea why this series is so popular?

JL: I actually think swine flu helped the book, because it was in the news right before the book came out. So the idea of something that was based on a prohibition of meat -- like when in Egypt they were killing 40,000 pigs just 'cause it was called swine flu -- suddenly, [my idea] didn't seem so ridiculous. NT: Any advice for artists and writers who want to get into the comic book biz?

JL: It's really hard to get a job in comics unless you know somebody. An artist will make more money, because they can sell their sketches and stuff. But a writer can write four books a month, where an artist can only draw one a month.

NT: You just moved here four weeks ago. What brought you to Arizona?

JL: My wife has family here, and we just decided to come where things are cheaper. Bigger. It's....a lot like San Jose, but cheaper. 

I've lived in California my whole life, except for five years in Seattle. I loved Seattle because it's gloomy all the time, and as a writer you don't feel so bad about being indoors all the time. Everything is just independent coffee shops and bars. I'd get up, go to Top Pot Donuts, go to the library and work until about 2:30 and then the drink specials would start. We'd go and get PBR pints for like a dollar and start drinking around 3. It was the best life. 

NT: What's next for Chew?

JL: I just finished #10 on Tuesday. It was the hardest comic book I've ever written, and I don't know if it's good or not. #7 comes out in stores a month from last Wednesday. 

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